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April 15, 2003

In pressuring Syria, U.S. seeks to curb guerrilla attacks on Israel

But clearly whatever is to be done is not simply for Israel. Terrorism needs to be rooted out so why not go to the garden where it flourishes
While Syria is probably not an imminent target for punitive U.S. military action, the Bush administration wants to leverage victory in neighboring Iraq into curbs on anti-Israeli guerrilla attacks from Syria, U.S. and Arab officials said Monday.

Their analysis seemed to flesh out comments by Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, that Syria was not next "in line" for a U.S. invasion, but that it had "questions to answer" about its role following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad.

Publicly, Washington has concentrated its public complaints on questions about whether Syria has let Iraqi leaders flee to safety across its border and perhaps taken in Iraqi scientists and their prohibited equipment with a view toward letting Syria expand its own arsenal of chemical and biological weapons.

Beyond those issues, a Pentagon official said Monday that the Bush administration sees an opportunity to squeeze Damascus into cutting off support for Hezbollah and other anti-Israeli guerrillas, who thrive on Syrian help. Israel is pressing Washington to make Syria take action along these lines, Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli defense minister, said in an interview published Monday in Ma'ariv, a Tel Aviv daily newspaper.

Among the key organizations engaged in the Palestinian revolt against Israel, two that specialize in suicide bombings - Islamic Jihad and Hamas - depend heavily on Syria for headquarters and resupply. An Iranian-backed organization, Hezbollah, has launched rocket attacks and suicide raids on towns in northern Israel for years from bases in southern Lebanon, a zone controlled for practical military purposes by Syria and its armed forces.

An Arab ambassador in Europe explained the context for U.S. thinking that Syria can ease the pressure on Israel. "Washington convinced Damascus to put the lid on Hezbollah during the Iraqi campaign to prevent an incident that drew Israel into the war - and the Bush people want to make that permanent," he said.[more]